Living in Society

An Assembly

Stinocher Post #460 American Legion Color Guard on Memorial Day, 2023.

Members of our community gathered for events over the Memorial Day weekend. I did not know most of the people I encountered, yet felt a part of it. I did recognize most of the veterans in the American Legion color guard at Monday’s service.

We don’t neighbor the way we used to when I was coming up at the American Foursquare in Davenport. I remember getting to know everyone on our block, at least a little, when I was a grader. I had been inside most of the houses and apartments. It was hard to keep up with the several rentals, yet if someone owned their home, I knew who they were and a bit about their history. Geography was an important part of neighboring. It is less so today.

We gather in different ways in the 21st century. Our county Democratic party is trying to resuscitate the idea of “neighborhoods” in an effort to prepare for the 2024 and 2026 elections. Such geographical neighborhoods they describe don’t exist any more, especially in rural Iowa. In a place where automobile culture takes us to remote jobs and commercial enterprises, we are less rooted in the physical community. With increasing specialization of interests, there are fewer people who share them in our immediate locale. While rural folks may reflect the same humanity as anyone, the distance from population centers and their work, shopping, health care, and intellectual assets creates a divide unlikely to be breached.

By nature of our humanity we live in a place. How we socialize is unchained from restrictions of geography. That makes assumptions about how one canvasses and gets out the vote in a geography obsolete. That is, we need to invent a new way of locating and turning out voters. Thus far, if the string of Iowa Democratic losses is any indication, we’ve not proven to be much good at it.

Why do we gather in person? On Memorial Day, the reasons are clear, and each person has a role in a public ceremony. The difficulty I increasingly experience is separating from people by political party. The old methods of winning elections haven’t worked for a couple of cycles, and I’d rather spend time with people I know who don’t have the interest of Democrats. Age, status in life, volunteerism and others mean more than politics. The assumption that we associate only with people we resemble has not well served us. We need to let go of old ways and assemble under new, to be defined practices.

I don’t opine much about “society,” yet society will be better if we change our associations with others.

Living in Society

Culture of Open Inquiry

Green up on the Lake Macbride Trail.

In 1820 most countries started out on a relatively equal economic footing. Translation: People and regions were poor around the globe.

Author Jeffrey D. Sachs described this world:

Life expectancy was extremely low; children died in vast numbers in the now rich countries as well as the poor countries. Many waves of disease and epidemics, from the Black Death of Europe to smallpox and measles, regularly washed through society and killed mass numbers of people. Episodes of hunger and extreme weather and climate fluctuations sent societies crashing.

The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time, by Jeffrey D. Sachs.

What changed, according to Sachs, was the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Why did this happen in Britain before China, which had been the technological world leader for a millennium? In part, British society was relatively open after the decline of serfdom, its traditions of free speech and open debate contributed to the implementation of new ideas, and Britain became one of the leading centers of Europe’s scientific revolution. “With Britain’s political openness, speculative scientific thinking was given opportunity to thrive, and the scientific advances on the Continent stimulated an explosion of scientific discovery in England,” he wrote.

The impact of these conditions of intellectual inquiry is old news. Yet today’s Americans should take note as legislatures around the country restrict tenure among university professors, ban books, control school curriculum, regulate who can use which bathroom, and remove funding from projects that contribute to understanding of our most significant problems. Lawmakers are putting a damper on open inquiry. Dumbing down and censorship do not represent a path to create the explosion of new ideas and technological innovation needed to survive and thrive in the years ahead. Who could even have imagined this might become a concern?

The deliberate destruction of knowledge is not new. Libraries and archives have been attacked since ancient times. Today, public libraries fight for their very existence as they are censored, deprived of funding, and subject to pressure from political, religious and cultural forces. Open inquiry in this context is hobbled by real constraints.

The latest hobble here in Iowa is elimination of funding for an important water quality sensor program at the IIHR Hydroscience and Engineering center at the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering. Erin Jordan of the Cedar Rapids Gazette covered the story here. “Iowa deploys about 70 sensors each year on streams and rivers across the state that measure nitrate loads and concentration so observers can tell whether water treatment plant upgrades, wetland improvements and agricultural conservation practices are working to reduce pollution,” Jordan wrote.

“Defunding progress reporting and monitoring is not the direction we should be going in our approach to nutrient pollution in Iowa,” Alicia Vasto, water program director for the Iowa Environmental Council told the Gazette. “Iowa taxpayers deserve accountability for the funding that is being spent on nutrient reduction practices.”

Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, caused by nutrient runoff in Midwestern farming operations, is a problem. Closing down open inquiry into solutions to the problem is exactly the wrong direction.

We Americans are better off today than we were before the Industrial Revolution. The lesson that should be taught in schools is open inquiry into the problems of our day is as important as any curriculum item. Regretfully, my opinion may be viewed as that of just another advocate. In today’s society, the powers that be don’t want the rest of us to do too much thinking. Therein is the problem.

Living in Society

From Society to Soup

Vegetable soup before cooking.

I’ve turned from society to soup. Not sure how I feel about that, yet the soup smells pretty darned good. The leafy green vegetables were harvested the same day, many of the vegetables were grown in the kitchen garden last season then preserved, and lentils and barley came direct from a super market. This soup made a fine dinner with five quarts leftover for the coming week and beyond.

As we age we spend more time alone. Children, if we have them, develop their own lives. In the Midwest, many of us work to age in place and the home becomes a quiet warehouse of memories and too much stuff no one needs or wants any more. To expect something different puts too much burden on our offspring. A key element of successful living after age seventy is learning to live well alone… and to let go of the possessions because you can’t take them with you.

After working a five-hour shift in the garden, I’m pretty tired for the rest of the day. Yesterday I came indoors for lunch and started the pot of soup. Most of the knife work was done before I put up the vegetables last year. All I had to do was peel potatoes and carrots, gather items from the freezer and pantry, and put everything in the pot with salt and a few bay leaves. It simmered all afternoon.

Loneliness is a normal part of aging. Because of connections formed over a lifetime, we live in a galaxy of friendship. From time-to-time we forget about our network, although we shouldn’t. When one makes so much soup, there is plenty to share.


April 2023 in Big Grove

Trail walking in Spring 2023.

The last few days of April have been marvelous. Rain subsided, ambient temperatures were mild with low humidity. It has been a spring month, as good as they get. No more close friends have died this month, so there has been psychological relief as well. We needed a breather.

Spinach planted in the ground on April 15 is up. Onions are doing well. Yesterday I planted cauliflower, cabbage and kale, and there are two more rows in that plot for broccoli, collards, and other leafy green vegetables.A mad garden rush will be happening in May with the target of getting the initial planting done by Memorial Day, which this year falls on May 29. Gardening is going well.

The Biden administration announced that it intends to end the presidential declaration of national emergency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) public health emergency attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic on May 11, 2023. I was at a restaurant last night where a couple of people continued to wear a facial mask. With my full regime of COVID-19 vaccinations, I did not.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 104,538,730 reported cases of COVID-19, 1,130,662 deaths attributed to it, and 55,743,629 doses of vaccine administered. There are currently 9,167 hospitalizations due to the coronavirus. It was, in no uncertain terms, a public health disaster. The scale of 1.1 million U.S. deaths is difficult to wrap one’s head around as we close in on the end.

The Iowa Legislature has taken up budget bills, which means we are close to the end of session. Thank goodness. There has been so much controversy over bills it had been like drinking from a fire hose trying to understand what is happening. Republicans won super majorities in 2022, and are exercising their power like never before. Democrats are hanging on, trying to get a message out. Democratic messaging has been like trying to light a candle in a derecho: word is not getting out beyond political junkies.

Our blogging group went to dinner Friday night at Royceann’s Soul Food Restaurant in the South District Market in Iowa City. The menu has a fixed number of daily items on it and diners can order a meat and two sides for $18. It is a bit tough for vegetarians to find something on the menu, and tougher for vegans. I ordered cabbage, cornbread, and macaroni and cheese. The preparations were distinct and tasty. I plan to return to try the collards with cornbread. I usually say I can cook better than what I find in restaurants, yet not this time.

Our furnace gave up the ghost this month. We have been discussing which new one to get and have made a decision. When an expensive item hits a household on a fixed income, it takes some wangling to determine how to pay for it. We have it figured out.

I have finished reading seven books in April. Check out what I’ve been reading on the Read Recently page by clicking on it at the top of this page. I got new glasses for the first time since 2019. It’s great to be able to see clearly again. Hope your April was as good as mine. Thanks for reading my post.

Living in Society

Trash Talk

Iowa State Capitol.

Republicans in the Iowa legislature are treating children like trash. It is part of their view of the role of children in society. It is not right.

Republicans embrace our forefathers, and seek to make Iowa and America great. They don’t want to hear alternative views of American history, like those presented in The 1619 Project created by Nikole Hannah-Jones of Waterloo. They also don’t want to go back to our founding in 16th Century Britain, although that’s where we seem to find ourselves today.

Today’s Republicans embrace the worst aspects of 16th Century colonization, including the idea of Richard Hakluyt that children of the poor be “brought up in labor and work” so they would not follow in their parents’ footsteps and become “idle rogues.” These Republicans are no different than the British elite who had never set foot in the Americas as they rounded up the poor, indigent, and criminal, as well as children, to send to North America and return riches made with the sweat of their brows.

When I woke at 3 a.m. this morning the Iowa Senate was deadlocked over Senate File 542, a bill to roll back protections for children against inappropriate types and amounts of labor. The bill was written by the governor and a small coterie of restaurant and retail establishment lobbyists seeking to resolve Iowa’s labor shortage. Deadlock was related to the spoken intent of the bill. Republicans didn’t want to say anything about their intent, so they refused to answer direct questions about the bill during debate. This is behavior unworthy of their oath of office.

I worked on the cleanup crew of a large slaughterhouse as an adult, and it’s no place for children regardless of the law. This is common sense.

Children are not something to be used up and thrown into the garbage. Yet that is the effect this legislation could have. Republicans frame this as learning the responsibility to work and saving a little money for higher education or other advancement of personal goals. I see it for what it is: a chance to indoctrinate children to do the bidding of the wealthiest among us and in doing so, give up part of their childhood.

No matter how you look at it, it is a raw deal for children when they are treated like expendable commodities. The Iowa House will debate this bill next.

Living in Society

Political Landscape

Ben Keiffer (L) and Dr. Christopher Peters chatting at Pints and Politics event, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018

I hope the procession of deaths of friends and acquaintances will give it a rest for a while. I need to think about other things, namely gardening, cooking, writing, reading, and to some extent, politics. That last one sticks in my craw.

My new process of saving political newsletters to read over each weekend is working well to offload worries about political life. Better to save them and review all at once, I thought. The decision made me more productive during the week. I can see which elected officials are doing the work and which are phoning it in.

One newsletter stands out. Brad Sherman, my representative’s newsletter, sent from his campaign website. Sherman is a fringe member of political society. As a preacher, he is also on the fringe of nondenominational congregations. I compare him to other Republicans I’ve known and he doesn’t seem to work at getting to know constituents except those that produce a vote for him. Not only is Sherman on the fringe, he is plain weird. I gain insight into the weird at the expense of foregoing my priorities for state government. It is an unsavory dish to swallow.

Sherman won the election fair and square, even beating the Democrat in typically liberal Johnson County. We’re stuck with him until 2024, although depressed voter turnout and lack of interest in politics may be his ticket to reelection.

What don’t I like about him? In his last newsletter he wrote,

It has become obvious, for anyone who is not under the spell of the corrupt mainstream media, that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Election fraud is now out in the open and it is time for it to be dealt with. And if the 2020 election was fraudulent, then Donald Trump is the rightful president, and we must insist that this gets fixed!

Brad Sherman legislative newsletter, April 6, 2023

It is tedious to mention Joe Biden won the 2020 general election for president the same way Sherman did, fair and square. I won’t be taking that up with him as he is off in the deep end. I don’t want to get dragged down with him as I have gardening and other things to do, as mentioned. Whether electing a Democrat in this district is possible is an open question. My sense is few people are paying attention to politics these days.

Iowa Democrats are in transition, as is the entirety of the state.

Much has been made this news cycle of the 565,000 registered Iowa voters who didn’t vote in the 2022 midterm elections. Secretary of State Paul Pate is sending letters to them all to receive confirmation they want to remain on the rolls. No response, you are purged in 2026. Yes Republicans are working to purge voters from the rolls. My comment is a little different. Did Democrats really leave 565,000 votes on the table in 2022? I believe Obama 2008 would never have left that many fish in the pond. My take is sloth set in.

Democrats have a lot of plans, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Centralized thinking about winning elections hasn’t worked for a long time, likely since the big wins in 2006 when the electorate decided they’d had it with George W. Bush and Republicans more generally. The worm has turned now.

My experience during the 2022 cycle was there were very few active Democrats in the nine Johnson County precincts in House District 91. Most have trouble filling two seats on the county central committee, let alone doing much during GOTV in the run up to the election. Partly, this is apathy, but partly the Democratic Party. More than apathy, Democrats have lost the relevance of which they are continuously reminding us. Other factors play more important roles in people’s lives. Politics is not high on the list of what is important.

Iowans are amenable to collective thought, and that serves Republicans. Farmers alone have to listen to bankers, equipment dealers, chemical companies, seed companies, and people who make a market in the commodities they grow. Without being collective farms, farmers act like them voluntarily because it serves their best interests to conform to the demands of people and organizations they rely upon. Evidence of the success of our form of agriculture is that millions of people haven’t died of hunger as they did in the hey day of collective farms in the Soviet Union.

It’s been a couple days since one of my friends and acquaintances died. Let’s see if we can go a few weeks before there is another. In the meanwhile, I’m keeping politics on the back burner.

Living in Society

Winding Trail Home

Walking on the Lake Macbride Trail Jan. 14, 2020.

My life in politics is winding down as I turn to long delayed tasks and projects. When I returned to politics at the end of George W. Bush’s first term, I devoted time to everything political. I won an award as an activist. Hopeful candidates continue to see, in the database that tracks such things, I donated sizable amounts to congressional candidates. None of that time and money remains for politics as I stride down the inevitable path toward life’s end. There is too much else to do.

We Iowa Democrats were beaten hard during the last few general elections. While 2010 didn’t kill us, the return of Terry Branstad as governor that year was the beginning of the end. 2022 was the end with Republicans taking all but one statewide office, all four seats in the Congress and increasing their already large majorities in the state legislature. I support what Rita Hart, Zach Wahls and Jennifer Konfrst are doing to resuscitate the Democratic body politic, yet time and money are things of which I have little extra to spare. Basic living has to come first.

Unless we nominate a corrupt, lazy bastard, I expect to vote Democratic.

A generic life expectancy table says I have plus or minus 13 more years to live. It seems like a lot of time, yet if I engage in political campaigns, the days, months, and years will fly by like songbirds migrating back to Iowa in spring.

What is all this stuff that needs doing? I don’t know… we made a list. The bigger problem is thrill is gone from politics. When you get beat down three elections in a row, it is time let go of it so the next generation can make the world they envision. William Butler Yeats summed up where we are in a 1920 verse that continues to resonate:

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Living in Society

Thursday Mood in the Iowa Legislature

My writing desk in 1980.

Editor’s Note: The Iowa legislature is considering a law that requires our county and two others where state universities are located, to divide into districts where each district elects only one county supervisor. Currently, we elect all five supervisors at large. I tried to persuade my State Representative Brad Sherman to vote no should leadership bring this bill up.


It is in every Johnson County voter’s interest to vote no on SF 443.

The population of Johnson County is such that creating districts would lock in Democratic supervisors in all five districts, which is exactly the opposite of what proponents of this bill want. I don’t know about you, but I want the freedom to vote for the best candidates for all five supervisor seats as the current at-large elections enable. Don’t impinge on my freedom!

The one recent supervisor election won by Republican John Etheredge was won by Republicans getting out the vote in the entire county in a low turnout election. So, there’s another reason to favor the at-large system. It elected the first Republican supervisor in many years.

Maintaining the current at-large supervisor election process is in our best interests. Republicans have the votes to do almost whatever they want. In this case, voting no on SF 443 is the right choice. Do what makes sense and is right if leadership brings the bill up for a vote. Vote no.

Thanks for reading my email. Make it a great day!

Regards, Paul
Paul Deaton
House District 91 Constituent

Living in Society

Next for Iowa Democrats

Rita Hart

A letter-to the editor writer in the Cedar Rapids Gazette admonished readers this morning.

Wake up, Iowans, and get off the sidelines — because the next freedom they take away could be yours.

LGBTQ+ bills in Legislature a sign of what’s to come,” by Karen Butler, Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 20, 2023.

Wake up call noted, yet it wasn’t really needed. For people who still follow local news, we are quite aware of Republican hegemony in our state government. We are aware of political attitudes toward trans-gender surgery and support because our state legislators quote chapter and verse from the New Testament in support of their belief God assigned biological sex at birth. Describing something they call “gender fluidity” as a political movement, Republicans oppose it. As they remind us, they won the 2022 midterm election. As the recent Selzer poll found, “Majorities of Iowans support Republican legislation to restrict instruction on LGBTQ topics in schools and ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors.”

What are we going to do besides wake up since most of us never went to sleep?

The Iowa Democratic Party elected Rita Hart as chair on Jan. 28, and she has been steady at it answering that question. She appeared on the March 10 edition of Iowa Press where she outlined her plans to stay in conversations about presidential preference during the 2024 Democratic caucuses. She approached the party’s future in a thoughtful manner typical of her management style.

She recently sent a letter outlining what’s been happening since her election as Chair. Hart wrote, “My focus is squarely on how we can start winning elections again.” She introduced a “Mandate for Change” to facilitate winning elections:

  • Reconnect with folks on the ground.
  • Rebuild our fundraising base — and make it sustainable.
  • Organize everywhere, all year.
  • Improve our data and technology.
  • Hold Republicans accountable in the media.

As part of the rollout of this new Democratic mandate, Hart appeared on Sunday, March 19, at Terry Trueblood Park in Iowa City at a fundraiser. Also speaking were Iowa Senate Minority Leader Zach Wahls and Iowa House Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst. I discontinued donating to political causes because with the increases in utilities, groceries, property taxes, and other retirement expenses and living costs, the $50 requested donation was more than our budget could afford. Wahls posted two photographs of the event on social media, so we know it happened. The event was lost in the noise of the Iowa Women’s Basketball team advancing to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA championship. I hope they raised a lot of money.

The problem Iowa Democrats have is we need to change how we relate to other members of society. While the five-point mandate Hart outlined includes essential requirements for the party infrastructure, we have missed the boat on messaging in media, and in relating to our neighbors. The latter is more critical, although media, especially radio and television, influences the electorate of which pollster Ann Selzer is taking the pulse.

Most of the people with whom I interact every day are Republicans. This is Iowa, and for the most part, that’s to be expected. I learned that lesson after the 1960 presidential campaign when Richard Nixon won Iowa. For those historically challenged, John F. Kennedy became president after that election. We Iowa Democrats took refuge in our national politics, not unlike what we did after the 2020 general election that brought us President Joe Biden. National politics doesn’t adequately help us win local elections.

I plan to do what I can to support Rita Hart in her newest role as party chair. She said, “I’ll level with you, we have a lot of work to do, and building up the infrastructure we need to win is not going to be easy…” We knew that, the same way we heard the wake up call from Karen Butler in her letter. There are limits to what we can do as individuals. There are few in my area interested in spending any time on politics, let alone building the Democratic Party. This doesn’t bode well for electing Democrats here, yet we Iowa Democrats are a tenacious bunch. I haven’t given up on Iowa, nor should readers.

Living in Society

Read Prairie Progressive

I recommend reading The Prairie Progressive because there is nothing else like it for progressive readers.

The Prairie Progressive has roots in the Democratic Socialist movement in Iowa. The publication was called the Democratic Socialists of America Iowa Newsletter when first published in July 1985. It has been produced at least quarterly ever since. The most recent edition is hot off the union presses and can be found here.

In this issue is the writing of Clarity Guerra, Nate Willems, Kim Painter, Marty Ryan, Robin Kash, Laura Bergus and Carol Thompson. Who are these people? They are current and past elected officials, and local activists mostly in the Johnson-Linn County corridor with a distinctly progressive perspective.

Did I mention, the most recent edition is hot off the union presses and can be found here?

The revenue to sustain quarterly publication comes from paid subscriptions. It is affordable and available in the United States in hard copy for $15 per year. To subscribe, send your check to The Prairie Progressive, Box 1945, Iowa City, Iowa 52244. The Prairie Progressive is funded entirely by reader subscriptions, so your subscription matters.

Recently, editor Dave Leshtz decided to take the enterprise online. Our roots are in print, so we delay online publication long enough to allow our hard copy subscribers to have a first look. The website is here. In addition, the University of Iowa digitized and archived past issues here.

I hope readers of this blog will take a look at The Prairie Progressive.